This past Saturday, Oct. 14, a truck exploded near a hotel in Mogadishu, which happens to be Somalia’s capital and largest city. Initially, it was believed only 20 people died in the explosion, but the official death count rose rapidly as 160 unidentified bodies were found. The death toll, currently over 320, continues to rise as more bodies are found under the rubble spread over hundreds of meters in central Mogadishu. At least 180 others were injured in the most lethal attack in the world, in recent years. Rescue workers believe a definitive death count will be impossible, as the heat generated by the attack makes it hard to find some remains.
The truck is believed to be loaded with at least 350 kg of military-grade explosives. The explosives were hidden under rice, sugar, and other goods to avoid suspicion at vehicle checkpoints. A local businessman and tribal leader are believed to have vouched for the truck driver. Officials say a Toyota Noah minivan was also involved in the attack, and both vehicles were likely heading to the Mogadishu airport complex, which is also near most embassies and a 22,000 troop Amisom, the African Union’s peacekeeping force, base. Sources close to the Somali government claim the driver accelerated away from a checkpoint before being searched, crashed through a barrier, then exploded.
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed called for three days of national mourning and nationwide blood donations, to which he gave. Aid from surrounding countries came in following the attack.
Security officials from Somalia believe that al-Shabaab, a violent Islamist group in the region, was responsible for the attack. Al-Shabaab has not claimed responsibility for the attack, although earlier this year they vowed to increase their attacks after Presidents Trump and Mohamed increased efforts against the group. Al-Shabaab is known to bomb civilians in Mogadishu and avoid claiming responsibility to protect its image among ordinary Somalis. Somali Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman said, “It’s a sad day. This is how merciless and brutal they are, and we have to unite against them.” All security personnel on duty Saturday, save those who successfully stopped the Noah, were relieved from duty.
Officials believe the driver was involved in other attacks in Mogadishu, including a 2012 attack on the Jazeera Hotel that killed 8. “This is the Somali 9/11. The man we arrested has confessed. He is proud of what he has done. He says it was for jihad,” one official said.
Investigators are searching for the bomber’s explosive source. One source suggested that the explosives were stolen from Amison.
The bombing provoked international condemnation. Paris shut off the Eiffel Tower lights in acknowledgment, and the US special mission to Somalia promised that the US would rejuvenate its efforts against terrorism in the region. The US has increased drone strikes against al-Shabaab since the late years of the Obama Administration.